Monday, January 26, 2015

Polenta with Thyme, Bacon and Poached Egg

If you check the weather report and there's a cold front headed in, this is the dish for you.  Cheap, filling, warm, comfort food.  Hunker down with a bowl of this creamy goodness and you will have a happy tummy.  

So. Polenta.  Don't be scared.  It's not hard.  It's also cheap and delicious, filling and warm. 

Let's do a quick run-down: what exactly is polenta?

The short answer:  coarse-ground cornmeal.  In Italy, polenta is the name of the dish made with the cornmeal.  In America, we've had a history with cornmeal making both cornmeal mush (doesn't that sound yummy) and also grits.  Ukrainian grocery stores also seem to have the grain widely available.

In America, you want the stuff that's actually labeled Polenta, or in a pinch, look for cornmeal labeled coarse ground.  If it's not marked, it'll be medium ground.    If it's ground too fine, you'll end up with floury gummy mush, as opposed to creamy delicious goodness.  So you really do want to find the right stuff to begin with. 

In Ukraine, it'll be in the grain section, coarse and yellow colored. 

You're looking for something that looks like this (parsley garnish optional):

(I didn't actually take this photo -- thank you Google Image Search)
 Here's the brand I finally found here (no luck at Walmart, I had to look at a different grocery store to get this here in America.  In Ukraine,  you can find the grain everywhere.)
When you first cook polenta, it's a creamy delicious thing -- maybe like the consistency of cream of wheat or grits.  But as it cools, it thickens and becomes very solid.  You can buy this more solid, pre-cooked stuff in the stores in tubes.  Usually people cut it in slices and warm it up with sauce or other goodies on top.  Also yummy, but we're going for the creamy kind today, so you're going to need to actually cook it.
I am not sure why, but polenta seems to have a reputation of being hard to cook.  It's not.  It does take a while, but if you know how to boil water and stir, you're qualified to cook this.

Without further ado, let's get this going before the blizzard hits (ok, so I'm in Texas right now -- no blizzards here, but there's one rolling into the Northeast and it's snowy in Ukraine, so it applies somewhere):

The Step-By-Step

Cook the grain

So first we're going to bring 5 cups of water to a boil with a clove or two of minced garlic and some salt thrown in. 

 Now we add the polenta.  Whisk it in until the water comes back to a boil. 

 Turn the heat to LOW.  IMPORTANT STEP!  Whisk every once in awhile as you walk by.  You're going to keep cooking this for about 50 minutes.

What you want is bubbling lava.  The slow bubbles forming and then eventually popping.  This is what you need for about 45 minutes.  Keep it uncovered, you don't need a lid.  Add a little water and stir in if it looks like it's getting too thick.  

Weirdly, when I cook this dish in Ukraine, 5 cups of water and 1 cup of grain seems to work perfectly.  When I cook it in America, I need more like 6 cups of water so it doesn't get too thick.  No idea why.  So add water as needed.

Prepare the other ingredients

Ok, so to make this into a real meal, we'll need some butter, thyme, parmesan (real is preferable to the kind in the green shaker), and one strip of bacon and one poached egg for each serving.

So as you are stirring the bubbling lava, you can be getting that bacon cooked and drained, and poaching your eggs.

If you don't know how to poach an egg, do a quick youtube search, there are plenty of videos out there.  Maybe I'll do a poached egg post, but that will be for another day.
After about 45 minutes of cooking, the polenta should be creamy and the grains should be soft, not gritty.  The photo above is actually a bit thicker than I like it -- so if yours looks like this, maybe stir in a bit more water.  

So, when it's all done cooking, stir in the butter. Dish this up immediately or it will start to thicken into a solid mass as it cools.

Add a poached egg and a crumbled strip of bacon to each serving.  Top with shredded parmesan and fresh thyme.

Curl up in a squishy corner of the couch and watch the snow come down.  Savor each creamy, hearty bite.

The Recipe 


1 cup uncooked polenta
5-6 cups water
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons butter
4 strips bacon
4 poached eggs
fresh thyme
fresh grated parmesan

Put salt, garlic and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add polenta, whisk in and return to a boil.  Then turn down the heat to LOW and whisk often, aiming for a "bubbling lava" effect.  Add water as necessary if the polenta appears to thick.

Simmer and whisk about 45-50 minutes.
While it's cooking, prepare the poached eggs and cook the bacon.
When polenta is done cooking, stir in the butter and dish up immediately (do not allow to cool -- it will thicken!)

Top each serving with a poached egg and a piece of bacon, crumbled.  Sprinkle with thyme and parmesan.

Serve immediately.